Two Worlds: Rochester’s Anti-Apartheid Movement

Rev. John Walker speaking at an Anti-Apartheid march in 1985. From: Democrat & Chronicle, September 15, 1985.

These days when South Africa appears in the local news, it is often in conjunction with the COVID-19 variant first discovered in that country. Thirty years ago, the nation made headlines locally and globally when Apartheid legislation was repealed. The decision to end the official system of racial segregation in South Africa was influenced in no small part by the sustained protests of Anti-Apartheid activists from all over the world. Rochester, for its part, witnessed Anti-Apartheid efforts ranging from demonstrations by grass roots organizations and student groups to economic boycotts launched by local industries.    

The local Anti-Apartheid movement took root in Rochester in the 1980s. United Church Ministries, an umbrella group for 85 Black churches, sponsored the first major protest in the city in 1985, a march that drew some 40 demonstrators. Rev. Raymond Graves, president of UCM, informed reporters, “Rochester has been very quiet on this issue. But this is a beginning. We will be coming here Sunday after Sunday until we wake up this city.”

Rev. Raymond Graves standing in front of New Bethel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church on Scio Street. From: Democrat & Chronicle, May 31, 1998.

Many marchers likened the struggle abroad to the Jim Crow system that once defined the American South. As demonstrator Mary Harper noted, “It may have taken years to change things there, but it happened. It makes no difference that South Africa is so many miles away or I don’t know a single person there. The situation has to change there too.”

As local grass roots groups like the Coalition for Justice in Southern Africa continued to hold lectures, meetings, demonstrations, and fundraising events, the city’s leading industries faced mounting pressure to break any direct or indirect economic ties they had with South Africa.

Kodak instated an embargo on all shipments of its products to South Africa and sold the property it held there in 1986.

Headline announcing Kodak’s removal from South Africa. From: Democrat & Chronicle, November 20, 1986.

The following year, Xerox, which had maintained a presence in South Africa since 1964, sold its business assets there. It continued, however, to permit sales of its products in the country. Bausch + Lomb did the same through a local distributor, but sold its South African properties in 1988.

Such economic entanglements fueled the Anti-Apartheid movement that unfurled at the University of Rochester in the late 1980s.

In 1987, UR expanded its stock portfolio to include several companies that had either direct investments or licensing agreements in South Africa. The decision, which was especially jarring since the university had not previously had holdings connected to the country, sparked outrage among many students and faculty.

To protest the move, a number of students—including Black Student Union members—and community groups joined forces to build a shantytown on the main quad of the university’s River Campus that October. The collection of makeshift wooden shacks, which students took turns sleeping in, was meant to resemble the impoverished settlements that many Black South Africans inhabited. It was hoped that the encampment would provide a constant visual reminder of the oppressive system to which the university was economically contributing.

UR students and Rochester community members erecting a shantytown on the River Campus in October 1987. From: Democrat & Chronicle, October 4, 1987.
The shantytown in front of Rush Rhees Library. From: the Democrat & Chronicle, October 4, 1987.

The symbolic protest proved effective. Five days after the shantytown was erected, the university’s trustees reversed the school’s policy of investing in companies that did business in South Africa and announced that UR would liquidate all pertinent stocks by June of the following year.

While the decision marked a step in the right direction, it did not prove satisfactory to the protestors. As Shelly Clements, president of UR’s Black Student Union explained, “The issue was and continues to be that people are dying in South Africa and will die before next June. This decision is a start but it’s nowhere near the finish.”

Shelly Clements, president of UR’s Black Student Union. From: Democrat & Chronicle, June 18, 1993.

The shantytown inhabitants vowed to maintain their residency on the quad until the university’s divestment was complete. They eventually moved out in December 1987, after the university agreed to speed up the stock-selling process. By March 1988, the university had completely cut all its economic ties (worth some $20-25 million dollars) with South Africa.

Taking down the shantytown in the winter of 1987. From: Democrat & Chronicle, December 17, 1987.

Three years later, South Africa began the process of formally ending the oppressive Apartheid system that had marked and marred the country for much of the twentieth century.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on February 25, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

500 Norton Street, pt. 3: The Baltimore Years

A 1988 Red Wings Governor’s Cup Ring. Courtesy of: R.G. Stackman. Photo By: Emily Morry

The honeymoon between Rochester Community Baseball (RCB) and the St. Louis Cardinals only lasted a few seasons. RCB owned the International League franchise while St. Louis provided the athletes for Rochester’s team. As such, St. Louis saw Rochester primarily as a place to develop their young players. RCB, of course, wanted to put a winning product on the field to satisfy their ticket-buying fans.

In 1959, Clyde King was manager of the Wings and he had his own thoughts on how to win: play the best players. At first, King followed the Cardinals’ approach, but the Wings weren’t winning, and attendance was falling. As King started to replace the young players with the older, more experienced players, wins increased as did attendance. RCB and the Rochester fans were happy, but St. Louis was not.

This difference of views came to a head in 1961. St. Louis decided to replace Clyde King with a manager who would make use of the available young talent, but RCB sided with King and stood up to the Cardinals’ management. St. Louis abruptly cancelled the relationship with Rochester. However, RCB management had already been in contact with the Baltimore Orioles as a potential replacement. Baltimore agreed to keep Clyde King as manager and to supply players for the Red Wings. This change in Major League affiliation was known in the press as the “Big Switch.”

Heavy hitter John “Boog” Powell. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, July 19, 1961.

The first big impact player of the Baltimore years was John “Boog” Powell. Known as the “Boy Mountain” by local sports writers, “Boog” put up big numbers for the Wings. Leading the International League, he batted .321, knocked in 92 RBIs, and smashed 32 homeruns.

1963 started the long relationship between Rochester and Joe Altobelli. The outfielder played three seasons with the Wings then returned to Rochester to manage the team for six years in the 1970s. He became the RCB general manger in the 1990s. Altobelli expanded his connection with the Wings when he served as the color commentator for Red Wings games from 1998 to 2008.

Red Wings mainstay, Joe Altobelli. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, April 18, 1971.

The same decade that Joe Altobelli first joined the Wings, 500 Norton Street received a new name. Known as Red Wing Stadium since 1929, the ballpark was renamed Silver Stadium on August 19, 1968, in honor of Morrie Silver, who led the 1957 stock drive that saved Rochester baseball.

The Baltimore connection was very fruitful during the 1970s. The Wings, under the leadership of Joe Altobelli, won the Governor’s Cup in 1971 and 1974. Baltimore was developing future MLB players such as Don Baylor and Bobby Grich, who earned the Minor League Player of the Year awards in 1970 and 1971. Slugger Jim Fuller smashed 91 home runs between 1972 and 1976.

Don Baylor. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, April 24, 1970.
Bobby Grich. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, June 12, 1971.

The 1980s represented a unique era at 500 Norton Street. By this time, the circa 1929 ballpark was starting to show its age. After much deliberation, negotiations, and plain hard work, a $4.5 million renovation was completed in 1987, the same year that the city celebrated a century of professional baseball in Rochester. Seats were replaced, rusting girders were removed, new concrete was poured, locker rooms were renovated, public facilities were updated, and the whole stadium received a beautiful new coat of paint.

Renovating the aging Silver Stadium. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, March 17, 1987.

Baseball history played out at 500 Norton Street in 1981. A young third baseman with enormous talent and potential played in just 114 games as a Red Wing that year, but hit .288 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs. He was quickly elevated to the Orioles where he would go on to set the MLB record for consecutive games played. That player was Cal Ripkin Jr.

Another International League Championship was celebrated in 1988 when Manager Johnny Oates led the Wings to the Governors’ Cup. The team captured the cup again two years later in 1990.

The 1990s continued to see Baltimore supply quality players to the Wings. In May of 1994, Baltimore acquired Jeff Manto and sent him to Rochester. The 1994 season was not a great year for the Wings–they finished 7th–but it was a great year for Manto and the fans who came to see him play. In his only year at 500 Norton Street, Manto hit .297, smashed 31 homers, and had 100 RBIs. Rochester fans witnessed Manto lead the IL in homers, RBIs extra-base hits, total bases, and on-base percentage. He truly earned the award for the IL MVP of 1994.

1994 International League MVP Jeff Manto. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, September 15, 1994.

By the mid-1990s, there was concern in the air about 500 Norton Street. Though an extensive renovation had recently been undertaken, reality started to settle in. Silver Stadium was a circa 1929 ballpark with a new coat of paint.

A Red Wings game at Silver Stadium circa 1991. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, August 23, 1996.

The old stadium just could not compete with the newer facilities in the International League. Other cities at the time were in the market for a professional baseball team and promised to build a new stadium if promised a franchise. Officials from the International League and the Baltimore Orioles started to question the future of Silver Stadium and the Rochester Red Wings. The question that needed to be answered in Rochester was how to respond to the threat to 500 Norton Street—a large question indeed.

A lifetime pass to Silver Stadium from the late 1980s. Courtesy of R.G. Stackman. Photo by: Emily Morry.

-Daniel Cody

Published in: on February 11, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

“Tramps Like Us”: Memories of Front Street, pt. 2

An aerial shot of Front Street, just to the right of the Genesee River, as it looked in 1965. From the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Front Street, as detailed in the previous post in this series, was once the main commercial hub of Rochester. But it was also once considered by some to be the toughest street between New York City and Chicago. The historic roadway no longer exists, but its legends and lore remain.

After it was laid out in the early nineteenth century, Front Street became the city’s downtown shopping destination where Rochesterians could purchase everything from clothing and candles to hay for their horses. 

Front Street’s hay market, which opened in 1834 and remained in place till the early twentieth century, is seen here in 1852. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

By the Civil War, such vendors had become increasingly interspersed with saloons, lodging houses, and pawnshops.

Known at that time as the “Little Bowery” (after the New York City street and neighborhood of the same name), Front Street’s reputation soured over the course of the late nineteenth century as gambling dens and “disreputable houses” run by figures such as “Morphine Liz,” “One-Eyed Susan,” and “Scar-Faced Annie” took up residency along the roadway.

Such vice purveyors became synonymous with Front Street as reports of criminal activities in the area peppered the pages of the local press.

Sensational headlines detailing nefarious activities on Front Street. Top image: From the Democrat & Chronicle, July 23, 1879. Bottom image: From the Democrat & Chronicle, December 16, 1878.

In 1894, a reporter from the Union & Advertiser pronounced: “Probably no street in the city is more infested by thieves, gamblers and crooks of all kinds than Front Street,” and warned that, “respectable women cannot pass through the street on a Saturday evening without being insulted or annoyed in some way.”

But while Front Street was not without its faults, it is likely that turn-of-the-century journalists were overzealous in their reporting of such sensational stories and whetted the public’s thirst for such sordid details in their attempts to peddle more papers.

When a Rochester Herald reporter reviewed police records in the late nineteenth century, he discovered that the majority of the area’s crimes were of the petty variety and more often than not involved confrontations between fellow Front Street residents.

A common form of theft occurred when a down on his luck or (involuntarily) dry denizen stole meat from one of the avenue’s many markets and tendered it to a local saloon owner in return for a much needed quaff.

Francis Doud’s saloon at 79 Front Street. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Since the street housed many second hand shops, other less perishable stolen goods were also easily exchanged for profit. On one occasion, a clever crook disrobed a dummy in front of a store window then sold the pilfered coat back to the shopkeeper, who didn’t recognize the garment.

One Front Street dweller deliberately broke the law on an annual basis. Following the first snowfall of the season, “Chicken” Murray would commit an act of petty theft before turning himself in so that he could pass the rest of the cold Rochester winter in the pen.

From: the Democrat & Chronicle, October 28, 1920.

Like Murray, most of Front Street’s scofflaws struggled to make ends meet and resorted to criminal activity to support themselves or their respective habits. Many took at least occasional refuge at the People’s Rescue Mission, which moved to Front Street in 1888 and offered nightly lodging for ten cents or on a pay-what-you-can basis.

A number of eateries also catered to the less than fortunate on Front Street. Twentieth century establishments such as Hall Brothers and The Big 27 offered inexpensive but filling fare to professionals and paupers alike, and served free holiday meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Splendid Restaurant at 150 Front Street, seen here in 1957, was one of many eateries on the avenue. Photo by Kenneth B. Josephson. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

The Big 27, which opened up in the 1940s at 27 Front Street, was the domain of Tessie Krikszens, who spent several decades dishing up corned beef, polish sausage, and other hearty lunches for Rochesterians from all walks of life. She held a special place in her heart for the downtrodden, whom she supplied with free fare whenever possible.

Herbert “Paddy” Paddock and Tessie Krikszens of the Big 27 restaurant and bar. Photo by: Kenneth B. Josephson. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

The manager of Krikszens’ establishment, Herbert “Paddy” Paddock, not only served as the erstwhile “Mayor of Front Street,” but was perhaps the best-known character in the avenue’s history. The third and final post in this series will detail the life and times of this fascinating local figure.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on January 28, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

A Picture Postcard-Rochester’s Picturesque Parks

Rochester is blessed with beautiful parks scattered throughout the city. Right from the earliest days of Rochesterville, parks have been part of the fabric of the community.

The Local History and Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library has an amazing collection of postcards, which visually document the history of many local sites, including the city’s picturesque parks.

Here are just a few highlights…

Washington Square Park is located at the corner of Court Street and South Clinton Avenue. Elisha Johnson, an early settler of Rochesterville, set aside some of his land in 1817 for what would become the city’s first park. The small greenspace would go on to become the center of many social events over the years and has historically served as a gathering place for activists, such as Frederick Douglass, to speak out on the issues of the day. In 1892, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was erected in the park to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. An inscription on the memorial reads: “To those who, faithful into death, gave their lives for their country, 1861-1865.”

 

Washington Square Park as it looked in the early twentieth century. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Rochester’s park system is unique in that it features four major local parks designed by the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who was responsible for planning Central Park in New York City.

 One of the first Olmstead-designed parks in Rochester is Maplewood Park, which runs between Lake Avenue and the Genesee River on the city’s northwest side. Opened in 1888, the park stretches for two miles along the beautiful Genesee gorge featuring scenic waterfalls. At the corner of Lake Avenue and Driving Park Avenue is the world famous and nationally accredited Maplewood Rose Garden, which boasts over 3,000 rose bushes of all cultivars and colors.

Some of the iconic roses of Maplewood Park. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Seneca Park runs along the east bank of the Genesee River just north of Maplewood. This Olmstead park was opened in 1893 as “North Park.” It provided Rochesterians with 15 acres of greenspace along three miles of beauty in the forested gorge of the Genesee River. Early visitors enjoyed strolls along its many pathways. Since the early twentieth century, guests have also had the option of driving through the scenic area from the comfort of their own cars.

A number of features were added to the site over the years. Trout Lake was created by damming a natural spring. Up until 1922, visitors could tour the lake on swan boats propelled by drivers who pedaled the vessels like bicycles.

For many years, Seneca Park’s swimming pool was very popular on hot summer days. A bandstand was constructed in 1910 and concerts were frequently given, drawing large crowds.

The bandstand on picturesque Trout Lake. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

The park’s zoo opened in 1894 with a small variety of deer and birds. The large main zoo building was constructed in 1931 and for many years housed a variety of animals. The popular local attraction continues to thrill young and old alike.

Seneca’s Park circa 1931 zoo building. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Genesee Valley Park  Just as Seneca Park was known as “North Park” when it opened in 1893, Genesee Valley Park (also designed by Olmsted) opened the same year as “South Park.” The Genesee River divides the park in half. Olmsted’s intent was that the park’s east side would evoke a tranquil pasture. A flock of 80 sheep not only added to the tranquility, but helped keep the grass trimmed as well. The park’s west side was designed for recreational activities.

Some of the sheep that once populated Genesee Valley Park’s pastoral east side. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Highland Park  The crown jewel of Rochester’s park system is Highland Park, which was also designed by Olmstead. Built in 1888 on 20 acres of land donated by famed nurserymen George Ellwanger & Patrick Barry, Highland Park was one of the nation’s first municipal arboretums.The park itself achieved world renown for its collection of over 500 varieties of lilacs. The lilac collection was started in 1892 with 20 varieties planted by horticulturist John Dunbar. Some of these varieties were descendants of flowers that early settlers had brought with them to the United States.

Highland Park lilacs. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Ellwanger and Barry also donated flowers, trees, and shrubs for the park. In addition, they funded the building of a pavilion dedicated to the children of Rochester that became known as the “Children’s Pavilion.” Highland Park has grown over the years to 155 acres and is the site of the world-famous Lilac Festival every May.

Highland Park displays a vast collection of beauty. In the springtime, when more than 1,200 lilacs are in bloom, their fragrance engulfs the park. Countless photographs have been taken of the dazzling varieties of rhododendrons, azaleas, mountain laurels, and andromedas. The sweet-smelling magnolias add a little extra color to any picnic. Scattered throughout the park are patches of wildflowers, perennials, and exotic trees.

Some of the rhododendrons lining the hills of Highland Park. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Every year, a new pattern is created in the park’s oval pansy bed using the colors of more than 10,000 plants. This annual drawing using living plants is awaited by city residents–What will the plants grow into this year?

Pansies in the Park. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

-Daniel Cody

Did You Know?…

The Local History & Genealogy Division has approximately 3,000 postcards in its collection that date back to the early 1900s!

You can learn more about the history of postcards and the library’s collection thereof in the following article by Deputy City Historian, Michelle Finn:

Greetings from Rochester: Exploring the Past through Postcards

Published in: on January 14, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Meat me in the Morning: Front Street memories, part 1

While this year’s holiday season undoubtedly feels different, many Rochesterians will still engage in an exchange of gifts and many will commemorate the occasion with a festive meal. Although the available options for purchasing presents and food fare alike are seemingly endless these days, for many years one place served as the destination for much of the city’s holiday shopping needs—Front Street.

Front Street ran from Main Street up to Central Avenue. From: City of Rochester Plat Map, 1910.

Front Street now consists of one stunted block on the west side of the Genesee River, but it once ran from Main Street to Central Avenue, and thanks to its myriad establishments and eateries, was once known as “the oldest shopping center in Rochester.” Though Front Street’s heyday is long gone, some of its memories are preserved in a unique collection of photographs housed in the Local History & Genealogy Division.

The east side of Front Street as it appeared in 1913-14. From: the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

First laid out by Nathaniel Rochester in 1811, Front Street quickly developed into a commercial avenue. Over the course of that decade it became home to tailors, chandlers, clothiers and shoemakers, as well as a hay market. The first incarnation of the Rochester Public Market took root on the street the following decade in 1827.

But the avenue’s best-known business establishments were perhaps its meat markets. Every year, city dwellers and residents of surrounding towns made the pilgrimage to the street to purchase high quality turkeys, geese, ham, and fish for their holiday celebrations.

Most of the meat markets lined the street’s west side while the poultry purveyors set up shop on the east side. Many of latter shopkeepers were known to dispose of their chicken entrails by tossing them out the back of their stores directly into the Genesee River. Fowl play![1]

Birds and rabbits dangling in the window of Elmer Fox’s Poultry shop at 50 Front street. Photo by: Kenneth B. Josephson From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.
Washing the windows of Wayne Poultry ca. 1957. Photo by Kenneth B. Josephson. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Front Street also had its fill of fishmongers. Renowned Rochesterian Seth Green first made his fish spawn hatching experiments at the Centre Market, located at 29 Front Street. His business partner in the store, which opened in 1850, was Levi Palmer. When Green left the shop to raise freshwater trout, the firm was rebranded the Palmer Fish Company. Today, the company is better known as Palmer Food Services.

A 19th century portrait of fish culturist Seth Green. From: The Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.
Another Front Street fishmonger was Rochester Seafood, pictured here in 1957. Photo by: Kenneth B. Josephson. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Another iconic Rochester culinary institution also got its start on Front Street. The “white hot” was allegedly a creation of Ottman Bros. at 47 Front Street, but the local delicacy is now almost synonymous with Zweigle’s, which maintained a location (and erstwhile saloon) on Front Street from 1863 till 1916.

Zweigle’s location at 50-52 Front Street, seen ca. 1913-14. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.
“How the Sausage Gets Made.” An employee of Zahner’s Sausage at 59 Front Street. Photo by: Kenneth B. Josephson. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Front Street also featured a bevy of butchers beyond those specializing in sausages. Both Andrews Market (73 Front St.) and Fahy Market (Front St. at Andrews St.) were long-running establishments whose quality meats were prized by holiday shoppers and year-round carnivores alike. Another well-known butcher shop was that owned by Louis Jacobson.

In 1923, after having saved up 17 dollars from his newsie job, Louis Jacobson bought a slew of pork chops for 3 cents a pound and began hawking them to local restaurants from the back of a truck. He repeated the process until he had enough money to rent a stall at the Rochester Public Market. He opened his own establishment in the late 1920s and moved to 51 Front Street in 1935.

Jacobson, who carried the title of “Mayor of Front Street” for a little over a decade, maintained his market there until 1965, when urban renewal sounded the death knell for the once indispensable commercial avenue.

Butcher Sam Soscia at work at Jacobson’s Meats, ca. 1957. Photo by: Kenneth B. Josephson. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Though its meat markets had remained respected for the duration, Front Street had experienced something of a decline in the first half of the twentieth century, shaped in part by some of the other businesses and patrons that populated the avenue. The next blog post in this series will explore the seedier side of the street.

-Emily Morry

[1] Sorry. I turned into my uncle for a minute there.

Published in: on December 23, 2020 at 10:30 am  Comments (1)  

500 Norton Street, Pt 3: When Rochester Fans Saved Baseball

A postcard of Silver Stadium at 500 Norton Street, circa 1930-1940.

As much as baseball loves to maintain the status quo, by 1956 the sport had begun to experience major changes. Rochester was not immune to this wave of change.

The end of the 1956 season saw the St. Louis Cardinals reviewing the structure and financials of their farm system. The Cardinals pondered cutting ties with Rochester as the partnership was expensive, but offered the Red Wings a compromise solution–if local ownership of the team could be established, the Cardinals would still maintain a relationship with the city by using Rochester to develop their top-level players.

There was a plausible pathway to keep professional baseball in Rochester, but actions needed to be undertaken quickly, and they would be expensive. A group of local businessmen and politicians formed a committee to explore the possibilities of buying the Red Wings from St. Louis.

A formal organization, Rochester Community Baseball (RCB), was established with the aim of keeping baseball in the city. Elected officers included Frank Horton, Warren Allen, and Frank Gannett. Morrie Silver, a very successful Rochester businessman and head of M.E. Silver Corporation, was unanimously chosen to lead the very ambitious venture. It was an un-precedented action in baseball.

 

RCB Officers Allen, Gannett, and Horton and President Morrie Silver. From Democrat & Chronicle, December 2, 1956.

“I would like to see the Wings purchased lock, stock and barrel. The ideal way to get into this thing would be to pay off immediately the St. Louis interests in entirety.” Silver stated to the press.[1]

St. Louis established a price of $550,000 for the ballpark, equipment, real estate, and a full working agreement. When St. Louis initially stated that they wanted out of Rochester, a “Save the Wings” movement drew $294,000 in pledge money. This pledge drive showed St. Louis and the International League that Rochester was serious about keeping baseball in the city.

The plan was to sell stock in Rochester Community Baseball to generate the entire purchase price. If a mortgage could be avoided, RCB would save five to ten thousand dollars a year in interest. All these amounts were large sums of money in 1956. By year’s end, negotiations resulted in St. Louis lowering their asking price to $525,000.

As a show of good faith to the community, Morrie Silver bought $25,000 worth of stock. Silver wanted to personally show that RCB was a good investment. Early in 1957, letters went out to all pledgers asking for their checks for actual purchase of RCB stock. Stock price was set at $10.00 per share. The public stock subscription went into high gear.

A circa 1957 pledge form for RCB stock purchasing. From: Democrat & Chronicle, January 6, 1957.

In order for the deal to proceed, a down payment of $300,000 needed to be in the bank before January 15. The fans of Rochester kept their word and the checks covering their pledges poured in.

On January 23, 1957, the deal was signed, and the down payment was made to St. Louis. Red Wings fans deposited $304,760 in the RCB bank account in just three weeks. It was hoped that stock purchases would continue so loans would not be needed to cover the balance due.

Purchases kept coming in, but RCB needed to plan to borrow $175, 000 from four local banks. Lincoln Rochester, Genesee Valley-Union, Central Trust, and Security Trust Local all deemed the team a worthy investment.

After completing what was referred to as the “72 Day Miracle,” Rochester was ready to own a baseball team. On February 27, 1957, the final paperwork was signed between Rochester Community Baseball Inc. and the St. Louis Cardinals.  

“This is a big day for our community, and its people have a right to be proud,” said RCB president Morrie Silver.[2]

On signing day, there were 7,562 new owners of the Red Wings. The number of investors eventually swelled to 8,222. The number 8,222 has been “retired” by the Red Wings and is now displayed on the center field wall at Frontier Field.

Rochester Community Baseball truly lived up to its name. Rochester, as a community, proudly owned the Red Wings and 500 Norton Street continued its role as the home of Rochester baseball.

From: Democrat & Chronicle, January 23, 1957.

-Daniel Cody

[1] Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, December 2, 1956, p.1

[2] Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, February 28, 1957, p. 41.

Published in: on December 10, 2020 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

500 Norton Street, Pt. 2: The St. Louis Cardinals Era

The opening of the stadium at 500 Norton Street in 1929 began the St. Louis Cardinals era of Rochester’s minor league baseball team. As the farm club to the Cardinals, the team needed to have the red and white colors of the parent club as well as a bird-themed name. Hence, the Red Wings.

A 1930s-era Red Wings pennant.

The Red Wings got off to a great start in Rochester. The Cardinals signed quality players that produced quality teams. During the first three years in the new stadium, the Red Wings finished first under the leadership of manager Bill McKecknie. 

The Cardinals era was marked not only by great players, but great nicknames as well. In the stadium’s inaugural season of 1929, George “Watty” Watkins smashed 20 homeruns, stole 15 bases, and held a .337 batting average. James “Rip” Collins (1928-30) tore into opposing pitchers, hitting .376 and racking up 180 RBIs in 1930.

James “Rip” Collins. From: Democrat & Chronicle, June 12, 1929.

George “Specs” Toporcer (1928-1934) wore glasses, which was unusual for ball players at the time. In 1930, he hit .307 and for the next three years was a player-manager for the Wings. Johnny Leonard Roosevelt Martin, better known as “Pepper” for his fiery playing style, stole 20 bases in 1930 and returned to manage the team in 1943.

Pitcher Norbet “Nubs” Kleinke recorded 70 wins between 1934 and 1938, including a stretch of 11 consecutive victories. Estel “Crabby” Crabtree (1933-40) was a steady force in the outfield and smashed 14 baseballs over the fences during the 1936 season. Manager Billy “the Kid” Southworth helped the Wings capture the Governor’s Cup in 1939.

Estel “Crabby” Crabtree. From: Democrat & Chronicle, April 1, 1938.

A review of the Cardinals era would not be complete without mentioning Stanley “Stan the Man” Musial. Musial only played in Rochester for one year, 1941. Due to his amazing skills both in the outfield and at bat (in his short time here he batted .326), Stan was called up to the majors for the last two weeks of the season.

It was while Stan was at Rochester that his unique batting stance at the plate earned attention. His bent knees and angled crouch gave the impression of a coiled spring, but many opposing pitchers thought of him as a coiled snake ready to strike. “Stan the Man” would go on to have an amazing career and be voted into the baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Hall of Famer, Stan “Stan The Man” Musial. From: Democrat & Chronicle, December 4, 1941.

Another player of note with a unique nickname played at 500 Norton Street. George Herman Ruth Jr., better known as “Babe” Ruth, played in a New York Yankees exhibition game against the Wings in 1933. The “Babe” didn’t homer that day, but had three hits as the Wings beat the mighty Yankees 9-8.

The Red Wings returned to the pinnacle of their league when Manager Harry “The Hat” Walker led them to the Junior World Series Championship in 1952. Three years later, he and his brother, Fred “Dixie” Walker led the Wings to winning the Governor’s Cup. Fred Walker repeated this feat in 1956.

A promotional ad for the Red Wings’ Father’s & Son’s & Daughter’s Night. From: Democrat & Chronicle, June 14, 1956.

Many talented players called 500 Norton Street home over the course of the Cardinals era. Red Wing team members were named the International League MVP in 1940, 1943, and 1950, and Rookie of the Year in 1952, 1955, and 1959.

Championship teams also made their home at Norton Street. The Wings won the International League Pennant in 1929, 1930, 1931, 1940, 1950, and 1953, as well as the Governor’s Cup in 1939, 1952, 1955, and 1956. The Junior World Series was won by the Wings in 1930, 1931, and 1952.

The 1930 Junior World Series champions. From: Democrat & Chronicle, October 4, 1930.

Throughout the Cardinals era, Rochester fans supported the Wings. The Great Depression and the Second World War influenced attendance, but Rochesterians pushed through the turnstiles as often as they could. The average yearly attendance for those years was 161,118. From 1946 to 1960, the year team’s connection to the St. Louis Cardinals ended, average yearly attendance jumped to 251,733.

The 1939 Rochester Red Wings. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

By the close of the Cardinals era, almost 6.3 million Rochesterians had visited 500 Norton Street. The days of the Cardinals are long gone now, but their legacy remains through the team’s name and colors as well as the city’s deep love of baseball.

-Daniel Cody

Published in: on November 26, 2020 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Unique Women of Rochester, part 3

This is the third and final installment in our Unique Women of Rochester series, offered in conjunction with the RMSC exhibit, “Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World,” where visitors can discover more than 200 inspiring stories of past and present Rochester, Indigenous, and Haudenosaunee women who changed Rochester and the world. 

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Anne Keefe was a trailblazer in the field of broadcasting and an award-winning journalist that many Rochesterians welcomed into their homes for several years.

Longtime local TV personality, Anne Keefe. From: Democrat & Chronicle, September 28, 2009.

Born in 1926, Anne Keefe graduated from Sacred Heart Academy and the University of Rochester. In 1948, Keefe joined WHAM, Rochester’s first TV station. For many years she was the only female newscaster on local television.

After temporarily leaving broadcasting to raise her six children, Keefe returned to the airwaves in 1969 as the news director for WROC-TV. She served as a weekend anchor and the daytime host of shows such as “Dialing for Dollars” and “Crossfire,” where she interviewed local newsmakers.

Keefe left Rochester in 1975 to continue her broadcasting work in St. Louis. Over the course of her career, Keefe won the American Bar Association’s Gavel Award, two National Headline Awards, two Armstrong Awards, and a Peabody Award. In 2011, Keefe moved back to Rochester to be closer to her family. She passed away four years later in 2015.

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Music has always been a vital fabric in the quilt work of Rochester. All types of music have flourished in the Flower City, from marching bands to the Philharmonic Orchestra, and from Chuck Mangione to the Rochester International Jazz Festival. Opera has also been equally represented thanks in part to Renée Fleming.

Local lyric soprano Renée Fleming. From: Democrat & Chronicle, November 6, 2016

Born in Pennsylvania in 1959, Renée grew up in Churchville. After attending SUNY Potsdam, she came home to Rochester to do graduate work at the Eastman School of Music, followed by studies at the Julliard School.

Her big break came when she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition. In 1989, she debuted with the New York City Opera as Mimi in La Bohème.

Fleming’s full lyric soprano voice lends itself to a range of music styles, which she has explored in a vast discography comprising almost 40 recordings. She has performed at historical events all over the world, including President Obama’s Inaugural Celebration, Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in London, and John McCain’s funeral. She is also the first opera singer to have ever performed the National Anthem at a Super Bowl.

Fleming’s talents have been commemorated by numerous awards, including four Grammys (1999, 2003, 2009, and 2013), an honorary Doctorate from the Eastman School of Music in 2011, and the National Medal of Arts in 2012. She certainly is a sweet voice of Rochester.

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A common thread among the unique women of Rochester profiled on this blog is courage—courage to be different, courage to lead, and courage to follow one’s passion. Myra Brown is one such courageous woman of Rochester.

Activist Pastor, Myra Brown. From: Democrat & Chronicle, September 16, 2020.

Brown, the youngest of eight children, was born in 1965. Her parents were migrant farm workers, and the family lived in a small shack with an outhouse. Life got tougher during high school when her father passed away following a mugging.

Brown endured additional tragedies in 1991. The deaths of her husband, mother, and grandmother shook her to the point where she questioned her purpose in life. Then she got the answer that would change her life. One day, as she prayed, she received her calling: a voice told her to preach and teach the word of God. She listened and followed.

Brown started working in the local faith community at Corpus Christi Church as she continued her nursing career, working at the Rochester Psychiatric Center, Unity Health, and finally St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center.

In 1999, a large group of congregants of Corpus Christi challenged the traditional policies and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. These challenges included the acceptance of gay marriage and the role of women in leadership positions and on the altar. The result was the creation of Spiritus Christi Church, an independent Catholic church. Brown followed her beliefs and became part of Spiritus Christi, continuing her ministry work in the community

In 2005, Myra Brown joined the Racial Justice Workshops where participants were taught to understand racism in the community with the goal to undo it. She acknowledged that education is a key to success, so she went back to school, graduating in 2016 from SUNY Empire State College with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Religion and Social Justice.

She continued to follow her calling by training to preach and teach the word of God. She was ordained in 2017, making her only the third African American female in the United States to be ordained in an independent Catholic Church. The following year, Reverend Myra Brown was named lead pastor of Spiritus Christi Church.

Rev. Brown sees herself as an activist pastor promoting social justice and racial equality. After violence erupted during local Black Lives Matter demonstrations in September 2020, Rev. Brown was on the streets shuttling between the lines of police and the protesters trying to find a peaceful resolution. She worked out a compromise where her church Elders would position themselves between the police and the protesters to ensure the protestors could demonstrate and the police could protect property.

Reverend Myra Brown has the courage to be different and to follow her passion, hoping to make Rochester better for all.

-Daniel Cody

Published in: on November 13, 2020 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Parking (Lots of Love): Honoring Anna Murray Douglass

Frederick Douglass is widely recognized as one of Rochester’s most celebrated citizens and one of the greatest civil rights activists in American history. But it is possible that this renowned figure would never have entered the history books had it not been for the efforts of a somewhat lesser known individual—Anna Murray Douglass.

Anna Murray Douglass. From: Parking (Lots of Love).

Anna Murray Douglass not only helped Frederick Douglass escape to freedom, but she also did much of the behind the scenes work that allowed the famed abolitionist and orator to tirelessly campaign for social justice.

A new local project, which will be unveiled on Friday, November 13th, is seeking to shed light on, and honor the legacy of, this underappreciated Rochester resident.

Parking (Lots of Love), is an effort led by artist Shawn Dunwoody, RIT Professor Hinda Mandell and Edison Career & Technology High School’s carpentry teacher, Scott Moore, to commemorate the Alexander Street parking lot where Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass’ home once stood.

The former Douglass family home on Alexander Street as it looked in the early 20th Century. It was replaced with a parking lot in 1954. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

A historic marker awarded to the Office of the City Historian by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation has graced the site since 2018, but the project’s larger than life art installation will specifically highlight Anna Murray Douglass.

The historic marker at 297 Alexander Street has stood at the location since November 2018. Photo by Emily Morry, 2018.

The Douglass family resided in a house on the site of 297 Alexander Street from 1848-1851. Since Frederick Douglass was frequently out of town for lecture tours and other civil rights efforts—he was known to spend up to six months of the year on the road—Anna and their five children spent more time at the house than he did.

While at home, Anna helped support her husband and family by taking in boarders and managing the family finances. The former laundress also ensured that Douglass always had fresh linens and would mail them to him so that he looked presentable while on tour.

Anna undertook significant abolitionist work at the Alexander Street home as well. The family residence served as a stop on the local Underground Railroad, and due to Frederick’s prolonged absences, it was often Anna who fed and took care of freedom seeking guests on their way to Canada.  

Anna Murray Douglass’ lifework and activist efforts have long been overshadowed by her husband’s legacy. It is the hope of those behind the Parking (Lots of Love) project that their art installation will inspire more investigation into this significant local figure.

Local artist Shawn Dunwoody stands next to the larger than life likeness of Anna Murray Douglass. Photo by Hinda Mandell, 2020.

The project is supported by Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives as well RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, College of Art and Design, MAGIC Spell Studios, Division of Diversity & Inclusion, NTID, Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Individualized Study, School of Communication, William A. Kern Professorship and the Department of History.

The Parking (Lots of Love) art installation will be unveiled at 297 Alexander Street this Friday, November 13th at 2pm. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on November 12, 2020 at 10:30 am  Comments (1)  

Unique Women of Rochester, pt. 2

This is the second part in a series showcasing unique women of Rochester, in conjunction with the RMSC exhibit, “Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World,” where visitors can discover more than 200 inspiring stories of past and present Rochester, Indigenous, and Haudenosaunee women who changed Rochester and the world. This blog series touches on the stories of some of the figures featured in this exhibit, in addition to other unique women of Rochester.

Rochester has produced its fair share of patriotic women. One such woman who rose to the top of her chosen career was Mary E. Clarke. Born in Rochester in 1924, “Betty” Clarke attended both Immaculate Conception grammar school and West High School.

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The very portrait of a modern Major General: Mary E. Clarke. From: Democrat & Chronicle, May 6, 1975.

At the age of 21, Betty enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) just before the end of WWII. In 1949, she was commissioned a second lieutenant and began climbing the military ranks, holding several officer positions all over the world.

In 1972, Clarke was promoted to Colonel and became commander of the U.S. WAC Center and School in Fort McClellan. Three years later, as brigadier general, she served as the final Director of the Women’s Army Corps. In 1978, she became the first woman to achieve the rank of Major General in the U.S. Army, and took the position of commander of the U.S. Army Military Police School and Training Center. At the time of her retirement in 1981, she was the longest serving woman in the Army.

General Clarke died in 2011 and is buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

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Rochester icon, Janet Lomax. From: Democrat & Chronicle, October 6, 1985.

Janet Lomax has become a Rochester icon over the last 40 years. Born in Kentucky in 1954, Lomax moved here in 1980 after earning a degree in journalism and working in her home state for four years. She started as a  field reporter for WHEC. In 1982, she was promoted to the position of weekend anchor, becoming Rochester’s first black female news anchor.

Her success at this position quickly led to another promotion to the 6 o’clock and the 11 o’clock news. She remained at WHEC for her entire Rochester career, during which she  interviewed a number of notable people, perhaps most memorably, First Lady Michelle Obama.

Over the years, Lomax became involved with the Rochester Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the Rochester chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.

She retired from broadcasting in 2016 and was inducted into the New York State Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame the following year. Even though she thought she would only be staying in town for a year or two when she first earned her job at WHEC, Janet Lomax has made Rochester her home for four decades, bringing us the news, people and stories of the day.

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The sky is the limit for some Rochester women…or was it. Blanche Stuart Scott was born in Rochester in 1884. Growing up, she was fascinated by the automobile. As a young woman she was the first female to drive across America going East to West.

Aviator Blanche Stuart Scott. From: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The notoriety she earned from this feat led to her being the only woman to receive flying instructions from the famous aviator Glenn Curtiss. She is often credited as the first woman to pilot and solo an airplane for her very short flight in 1910. She became a professional pilot with the Curtiss Exhibition Team in October 1910.

Her piloting abilities and daring stunts earned her the nickname “Tomboy of the Air.” She was the first woman to fly long distance with her 25-mile flight in 1911. In 1948, she was the first woman to fly in a jet when she was a passenger in a TF-80C piloted by Chuck Yeager. She died in Rochester in 1970 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

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Mildred Johnson was a longtime Civil Rights activist in Rochester. Born in Brighton, she attended school in the city and graduated from the old West High School. Her family then moved to Washington, D.C. After attending Howard University, Mildred returned to Rochester in 1953 and became active in the local NAACP.

Longtime activist Mildred Johnson. From: Democrat & Chronicle, August 4, 1992.

In 1960, she opened the Negro Information Center in her home on Baden Street where she provided food and temporary housing for poor African Americans looking for work. Three years later, she renamed the Center after her mother, Virginia Wilson, who was a missionary worker in Rochester. As a child, Mildred had accompanied her mother on her rounds to the jail and settlement houses. The Virginia Wilson Helping Hand Center helped to feed and clothe the poor of Rochester. The Center was renamed the Virginia Wilson Interracial Information and Helping Hand Center in 1972.

Johnson was an early supporter of FIGHT (Freedom Independence God Honor Today) during the mid-1960s. She also worked with Action for a Better Community, the Urban League of Rochester, and other local organizations, always promoting and advocating assistance for the poor

Mildred Johnson was a straight-talking individual who spoke her mind in a way that garnered respect. She frequently stood before local judges to advocate for low-income Rochesterians. Although not a lawyer, she knew how to navigate the legal system—her word was as good as bail sometimes. As a community activist, she met numerous times with former NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The pair had an interesting personal relationship: she called him “Nelson” and he called her “Mrs. Johnson.”

Mildred Johnson died in 1992 at age 80, after a lifetime of tirelessly working to improve the lives of countless Rochester residents.

At her funeral, former Monroe County Legislator, Ron Good said, “She was a mother to hundreds, a grandmother to thousands and a friend to everyone. There will never be another Mildred Johnson.”[1]

-Daniel Cody


[1] Democrat and Chronicle, August 7, 1992.

Published in: on October 22, 2020 at 10:50 am  Leave a Comment